What the Division Symbol Means

by | Feb 8, 2018


On September 10, 2017 a twitter user tweeted the following:

This blew a lot of people’s minds on twitter and this tweet went viral.  The concept is that 3 ÷ 4 is equivalent to 3_4_fraction-svg_-144x300-4001917 with the dots as stand-ins for the 3 and the 4.

Poof. Mind Blown.

But, is it true? Ish.

The division symbol (÷) is known as an obelus and has been around since medieval times.  Originally, it was not a mathematical symbol but rather used as a notation in the editing of manuscripts. It’s also been used to denote subtraction (until quite recently in some parts of Europe). It began being used to denote division in the 1600s. The early use of the obelus didn’t indicate that the dots were a stand-in for the numbers in a blank fraction.

However, there is evidence that some teachers have explained the obelus as being a blank fraction for generations. So, while it may or may not have been originally thought of as a blank fraction, it makes sense and has been a teaching tool for some time.


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